Oh the GRE…

So it seems that if you want to do anything scholastic after Peace Corps, you have to take the GRE. I know I’ve already posted about it, but as the test date is moving ever closer I thought that I might RANT post about it yet again.

Benefits of taking the GRE in a developing country!

  1. You’ve done one thing to get into the “real world” ahead of time and it will be less stressful when you get back to America
  2. It gives you something to do during your downtime at site
  3. It gives you a goal and something to work towards when perhaps projects are not moving as swiftly as you would like
  4. It makes you sound super cool that you are taking a big important exam. (At least in Burkina it’s a big deal to take Concours (Exams) because they shape career paths and tracks. (E.g. A accoucheuse  (midwife) can take an exam to become a sage femme and earn more money and respect that way)
  5. It’s a paper-based test! So you can write on the booklet!

Costs of taking the GRE in a developing country  😦

  1. It’s hard to study when the constant noise of children, livestock, and places of worship (But on the flipside this could be a good thing…read on).
  2. Test proctoring protocol may not be as strict/organized as it could be on a computer based test (but I’ve heard horror stories about the computer based test)
  3. Finding quiet places in the capital to stay and study right before the exam
  4. I don’t have electricity/internet at site…enough said. But that’s OK!
  5. Limited opportunities to take the exam (3 times a year)

I figure the best way to prepare for this exam is like I prepared for orchestra auditions. As I’ve said before, orchestral auditions involve excerpts from standard repertoire. (For violists this includes the three Ds of Doom from Richard Strauss, Don Juan, Death and Transfiguration and Don Quixote…Mendelsohn’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Haydn Variations, Shostakovich 5, etc.).

Ok, so you’ve got the repertoire, and you have to learn how to deal with distractions. Unfortunately I had the displeasure of having one audition panel at a certain institute of higher learning which will shall remain nameless TALK AT NORMAL VOLUME THROUGHOUT MY WHOLE AUDITION WHILE I WAS PLAYING. As a candidate you have to deal with this. One of the best tips I got from my viola teacher at the time was to have my parents turn up the television volume while I was practicing and learn to tune it out.

I’m pretty good at tuning out village noise, prayer calls, cows, goats, donkeys, but I have a really hard time tuning out English these days. When I hear English my ears perk up and I immediately want to listen in to a conversation.

One day when I was in the capital for a meeting I decided to take a full length practice test in our transit house. Let’s just say it did not go as well as I would have hoped. I barely had enough time to finish each section and my score was not great. The upside is that that could pass for a worse-case scenario testing environment. In theory if I scored X in that sort of testing environment then in a quiet environment I should do better in a quiet room with less distractions. My scores on practice tests in village were higher than that one I took in the transit house…

Also, in terms of paper versus computer, I had a conversation with a fellow PCV who told me that her friend had two horrible experiences with the computer based exam. She said that the two times her friend took the exam the fire alarm went off and they had to evacuate the room. The computers kept running and she ended up getting a lower score than she would have liked because the test proctors could not stop the clock. She ended up fighting ETS twice to get a refund of her two exams.

Worst Case Scenario – the paper based test is poorly proctored/administered and I get a bad score…I take it again in the US.

Also I’m trying to replicate the whole experience. In Auditionpreparationland this means playing for as many people as you can…having them choose the excerpts they want, and acting like the audition panel. In this case it means taking the exam in the morning, straight through, and respecting the time limits for each section.

There’s also the point of no return. There’s a point when you are studying/practicing for auditions where you can say “I’ve done all that I can and there’s no going back. I can only do my best at this point and that’s Great!” You’re either prepared or not. It’s that simple. Hopefully at the beginning of February I can say the same. Right now I feel ok. I took 5 practice tests, and printed off more to take at site.

The main difference with the GRE and audition preparations is that the GRE writers are trying to mess with you. The questions have deliberately similar answers and they are deliberately trying to confuse you. I think once you make that realization you get inside the test makers heads and realize that they’re trying to mess with you and that’s ok! It’s your job to wade through all of that fraz and do the best you can on that particular day.

That’s the thing with auditions and standardized testing. As a respected colleague of mine from Interlochen Arts Camp wisely said” It’s a snapshot of you on that day at that particular moment, and like photos, they can turn out bad”

Let’s hope that my testing experience results in a photogenic, non-blurry snapshot…and if worse comes to worse you can always retake that photo.


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